We watched the waves start to form over a hundred yards out. Our family visits to the Kailua beach on Oahu where Dad was based in the Air Force were common and we boys got the knack of bodysurfing. The trick was to swim like crazy in the low stage just before the peak of the wave arrived. Good timing—getting carried up the face while stroking—promised a good ride near the crest until it broke on the shore. Great fun for an eleven year old!
Bible reading is like watching waves—of seeing the crests and troughs of God’s work in history. In Jeremiah last week and Ezekiel this week I’m reading God’s promises of goodness to come to Judea after her crushing exile. Waves are a good analogy. Judea may be crushed; but she will be restored after seventy years. Piles of dry bones will be reassembled and restored to life.
Yet there’s a difference between sea waves and history. The ocean maintains a wave cycle of every minute or two. God’s restoration is slower, running in cycles of six or seven decades. That’s long enough for most of us to experience at least one trough and one high in a lifetime; or vice versa depending on when we’re born.
My generation, for instance, was born on the crest that followed two world wars. A renewal began in the 1950’s after nearly seventy million of two billion people were killed in the sequence of two world wars between 1915 and 1945. Many soldiers, sailors, and their families who called out to God in the desperate moments of war started to study Scriptures and attend church. This spiritual momentum was evident when Time magazine labeled 1977 as the “year of the Evangelicals.” In that year one of every five Americans claimed to be a Christian, Billy Graham and Bill Bright were busy with evangelism, and Jimmy Carter was a “born again” president.
That spiritual momentum has faded as today we live in an increasingly post-Christian era. And while Western nations continue to enjoy relative prosperity and stability some creaks and groans are emerging. The world feels like a less and less stable place to raise a family.
So let’s get back to the prophets in the Old Testament. Jeremiah lived at a terrible time. The Babylonians had conquered his nation, captured the king, and moved large groups of Judeans into exile in far distant resettlement centers. It was in this low time that Jeremiah brought a message for his beloved nation: better times are coming! After seventy years Judaea would be allowed to return home. And her offending enemy nations—Egypt, Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Edom, Damascus, and Babylon—would all face their own times of justice and judgment.
Broader Bible reading displays even more waves. Noah’s time of despair led to a restoration after the great flood. Joseph’s enslavement was followed by a time of security and prosperity. Then, in a much longer cycle, Egypt became a national prison for Israel until Moses led them out into the Promised Land. The successes of Joshua were followed by the low times of the Judges. More ups and downs followed—with good kings followed by bad kings and vice versa.
Do similar cycles or waves still operate today? Are the Western nations, and the United States in particular, displaying this sort of seventy or eighty year movements? Only God knows what he’s up to. But my brief survey of recent history suggests that waves are still in play. But they may be harder to spot if we don’t have inspired prophets in our times telling us, “This is God’s work: listen and respond!”
But aren’t the warnings and promises of such cycles what the Bible still offers today? If we listen? Can we spot the emergence of ungodly, arrogant national and international leaders who oppress the powerless while seeking personal fortune and selfish political control? Are we alert to social and educational institutions that despise the Creator and worship the creation?
Answers to this question are important if we hope to stay faithful in times when opposition to God’s heart and ways swell all around us. Listen to what God said to Jeremiah when he was discouraged (ch. 15:19-20): “Therefore thus says the LORD: ‘If you return, I will restore you, and you shall stand before me. If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall be as my mouth. They shall turn to you, but you shall not turn to them. And I will make you to this people a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail over you, for I am with you to save you and deliver you,’ declares the LORD.”
Another analogy—given our own picture of the waves of spiritual history ebbing and flowing—would be a sturdy lighthouse built on a small island with pounding waves breaking all around it. A firm place amid the chaos.
So as we seem to be entering challenging times we can be sure a better day is ahead. And, we know, most notably when Christ returns.